With this easy to use DIY budget worksheet you can start tracking your earnings and your spending, be mindful about your money and make better decisions that will lead to financial stability. Start gaining control by routinely checking back on just that one spreadsheet...and the best part is that your privacy is protected since the budgeting spreadsheet resides in your drive, so you don't have to share any information with anyone.Read More
Women & money expert Manisha Thakor explores the impact on long term women's economic empowerment of pieces that deride professional women for the very bodies they were born with. In this case, she examines the backlash facing former News Corp International CEO Rebekah Brooks' choice to appear in Parliament with... gasp... her real hair down.Read More
by Manisha Thakor
Six Reasons Why Gen X & Gen Y Need Some Serious Financial TLC
They’re scared: They’ve entered their adult years during a gut-wrenching economic and job market. With unemployment over 9.5%, they’ve seen their parents struggle. Over 7 out of 10 Americans are now living paycheck-to-paycheck.
They are making poor decisions: As a result of that fear they are not making the best long-term decisions for their futures. A recent ICI study shows only 34% of investors under age 35 are willing to take substantial risk with their retirement money – the exact time in their lives when they should take that risk.
Something as “simple” as a 20-year head start can give you 5x more money: Let’s take 2 people. Jane starts saving $5,000 a year at age 25 for her retirement every year until age 65 and gets an average return of 7%. Jane has a $1 million nest egg by retirement. Joe starts saving $5,000 a year at age 45 for retirement every year until age 65 and also gets an average return of 7%. Joe has $200,000 in his next egg. That 20-year head start gave Jane 5x more money. That’s why learning the basics of personal finance – how to budget, get out of debt, and save so you can get that retirement fund funded in the key early years is so vital.
Young adults consume information differently so there’s a delivery challenge when it comes to education: Studies shows that young adults want their financial education delivered in a 21st Century way. They want it web-based with robust, interactive tools. And unlike their “I’ll do it myself” parents, these emerging adults want help and guidance.
Nearly half of Gen Y has below average financial fluency: A study by The National Foundation for Credit Counseling showed that nearly half of this generation did not understand how to save and budget and that 45% of them have no savings!
The financial world is geometrically more complex: Part of the reason for the above statistic is due to the fact that financial literacy is not taught in schools as a core life skill. Young adults often rely on parents who were brought up in “financially simpler” times and aren’t equipped to help. They are also bombarded by so many more unrealistic media images about what “normal” lives are like.
So, what’s the solution?
If you or someone you love is a Gen X or Gen Y-er… encourage them to self-educate. Here are some of my favorite personal finance sites – all of which I’ve either written for or read regularly myself:
For everyone: SmartAboutMoney.org
For men: IWillTeachYouToBeRich.com
What about you – any additional resources to recommend to Gen X & Gen Y?
by Manisha Thakor
'Tis the season... for open enrollment.
Open enrollment is the annual window where you can sign up for valuable employee benefits such as a Flexible Spending Account ("FSA"). If you work for an employer offering this benefit, trust me. You want to keep reading. As a self-employed person not eligible for this benefit right now - I'm here to tell you an FSA is nothing to sneeze at. Back when I was in corporate America I didn't appreciate FSAs enough - and want to make sure you don't make that same mistake.
FSAs are a great way to plump up YOUR bottom line by enabling you to pay for necessary out-of-pocket medical expenses with pre-tax dollars. As a result, when you sign up for an FSA, you can save up to 40 percent on expenditures that you are going to make anyway. This year, healthcare reform has brought about some changes to FSAs. To help current and prospective FSA users prepare for open enrollment, I've teamed up with Wage Works on a "Save Smart, Spend Healthy Campaign" to spread the word about what you need to know to make the best choices for you and your family.
Here are four key differences from last year that you should know about when planning how much to contribute to your FSA account:
1. OTC Medicines Are Still Covered... But You Will Need A Prescription. When there is change, there is often confusion. A number of news stories have inaccurately reported that the IRS is no longer allowing over-the-counter (OTC) medications to be paid for with FSA funds. Thankfully, this is incorrect. The truth is that starting January 1, 2011 OTC medications (excluding insulin) will require a doctor's prescription in order to be paid for with FSA funds. Note: the key word here is "medicines." Other non-medicinal OTC items such as band-aids, crutches and diagnostic kits can still be paid for with FSA dollars prescription-free. The easiest way to prepare for the new rule around OTC medications is simply to have a frank dialogue with your doctor at your next annual exam and get the necessary paperwork (specifically, a prescription) in advance for things like allergy medicine or pain relief capsules.
2. Contribution Caps Are Coming... So Plan Today For Elective Procedures. Starting in 2013, annual contributions to FSA accounts will be capped at $2,500. (Right now contribution caps are set by individual employers, and tend to average around $5,000). If you've been contemplating an elective procedure for you or a qualified family member - such as LASIK or braces - 2011 and 2012 are the last two years in which to set aside and use extra funds in your FSA. Remember, a payment made with FSA dollars is akin to getting a discount of up to 40 percent off since you are paying with pre-tax dollars. So it's really worth it to make an estimate of your FSA eligible expenses for the coming year and sign up to contribute that amount into your account.
3. Adult Children Get A Helping Hand... Under Certain Circumstances. Thanks to healthcare reform your adult children can stay on your healthcare policy up to age 26 - as long as they are not offered coverage by their employer. Now is a great time to check in with your entire family and see who might need coverage and/or whether any of your adult children qualify as dependents. Note: some firms will allow mid-year FSA contributions to reflect the addition of adult children so check with your HR department about their policies on qualifying events.
4. "Free" Preventative Care... Means Some Costs Will Go Away. Last but not least, routine screening for blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol may no longer require a co-pay. Other cancer screenings like mammograms and colonoscopies as well a pre-natal care visits, vaccinations, and routine infant and childcare checkups may also be provided as part of your baseline insurance - thus requiring no additional out-of-pocket cost. If you had previously used your FSA to pay for these expenses, you can pare back here.
Ultimately, spending a little bit of time understanding how healthcare reform may change the amount you choose to contribute to your FSA for 2011 is an investment that you won't regret.
by Manisha Thakor
Does holiday shopping & spending stress you out?
A few years ago I stopped doing the holidays. My corporate job had me on a plane every 3 to 4 days. My daily work hours were in the double-digits, and the mere thought of picking out - let alone sending - holiday cards was enough to throw me into tears. Shopping for presents... forgetaboutit. I didn't have the emotional energy to face the crowds and stores.
Ironically, saying "Ba-humbug" to "traditional" holiday habits increased my happiness. How? It caused me to reboot my ingrained thinking and come up with a new game plan for how to joyfully participate in the holiday season in a way that felt right to me. If you are reaching a holiday excess breaking point, here are three steps to help you have less holiday financial stress:
1. Set a shopping strategy & a specific dollar amount. This time of year there are a number of excellent news stories on how to "Avoid Holiday Spending Hangovers" and "Tips For Keeping Holiday Spending In Check." They almost always start by saying set a budget. That's excellent advice. Yet very few people do it - perhaps because "budgeting" sounds like deprivation. So instead, strive to create your own shopping strategy and assign a total dollar amount that you will spend in executing that strategy. Will you go wide and shallow (low priced gifts for many people) or narrow and deep (few incredible gifts for a handful of people)? Unless money is no object the key here is to avoid... wide and deep!
2. Measure your progress. It's an oft-quoted axiom of business that "what gets measured gets managed." An easy way to see how well you are doing at executing your shopping strategy is to write at the top of a piece of paper your total holiday spending budget. At the end of any day in which you shopped for the holidays just add up our receipts, write that number on your tracking sheet and subtract from the total. You'll then have a simple way to know how much you have left with which to enjoy spreading holiday cheer. You can also take this up a notch to spreadsheets and online resources, but the key is it to get it down in writing.
3. Don't be afraid to think out of the holiday box. The slow grind of this rough economy has caused many friends and families to reset gift-giving practices. But if you haven't yet, this is a great year to ask questions like these: Should we only give gifts to kids under 18? Should we do a one-name-one-gift holiday grab bag? Or do we want to rethink gift-giving all together and instead donate time or money to charitable causes and enjoy ourselves by simply spending time together? Writer Francine Jay (MissMinimalist.com) has wonderful advice in her upbeat "Gift Avoidance Guide." Blogger Leo Babauta (ZenHabits.net) shares some wonderful non-traditional thoughts in his "The Case Against Buying Christmas Gifts."
I'm still in the early stages of figuring out what new rituals work for my family, and its been a fun process. What about you? What changes are you making to have less holiday financial stress this year?
by Manisha Thakor
Tough economic times present an interesting financial conundrum for our tum-tums.
During rocky periods it’s natural and healthy to want to seek out friends and companionship. Breaking bread and having a good chat is a wonderful way to release work/life stress. But given our busy lives many of us end up spending time with others while eating out… which can really add up. So here are 5 simple things you can do to eat out for less.
1. Share an entree or make a meal out of appetizers: In modern America food portions have become so super-sized that the average meal can feed at least 2… and sometimes even 3 people. To avoid any surprises when the check comes, be sure to see if the restaurant charges a split entree fee. On a related note, some appetizers are so large they could easily fill you up as an entree and they generally cost half as much as a main dish.
2. Be sure to ask how much the specials cost before ordering: This a major hot button of mine. How many times have you found yourself in a restaurant when the wait staff describes a succulent sounding dish? You go for it, only to find yourself fighting the urge to hurl when you see the bill and find out the price. Personally, I think it’s a sign of financial self-confidence to politely ask “and what do those specials run?” so you can make an informed decision. It can be awkward to do it at first – but trust me, the whole table will appreciate it, and you’ll be a trendsetter.
3. Soup, it does a body good: A nice bowl of hearty soup (think gumbo, beef stew, tortilla soup, or chili) often costs a lot less, contains healthier ingredients, and fills you up as much as a regular entree.
4. Think before you drink: Beverages – alcoholic and even non – are very high margin products for restaurants. At a minimum, think twice before doubling down. If you can, savor one drink throughout the meal. And if you’re really trying to cut back, go to nature’s best… a glass of tap water. Doing this can easily shave 20% or 30% off your bill (not to mention pounds off your waist line!).
5. Do lunch: If you have a really strong urge to meet friends at a fancy new restaurant, try doing it at lunchtime instead. Prices are much lower, portions are more realistic, and you’re less likely to run up a costly alcohol bill.
What about you – any other suggestions you’d add to this list?